If last week’s episode felt like a rock bottom of sorts for the women of Girls, this week’s near-cold-turkey bounce-back just goes to show why we do keep watching. After the devastation of last week’s seemingly irredeemable meltdown, on not only Hannah’s part but also that of her spectacularly selfish friends, “Close Up” — written by Murray Miller (American Dad, King of the Hill) and directed by Richard Shepard (Ugly Betty, 30 Rock) — almost feels like a different show. A few weeks later, almost everyone has made some serious improvements, be it making actual positive change, or better yet, getting funnier at being the worst.
Cold open: Adam wakes up next to Mimi-Rose in her expansive loft. He sneaks out of bed to cook her a rooftop deck brunch in a sequence that’s simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking and infuriating — beautiful in that the couple seems truly happy with one another; heartbreaking to know how much ugliness was involved in getting here; and infuriating because what kind of damn sculpture BFA has a loft like that? The only Brooklynites who have places like that are trust-funders and Condoburg finance gentrifiers. By comparison, Hannah’s palatial flat looks like a basement studio in Ridgewood, especially when we cut to her sitting on her bed staring listlessly into the void like Virginia Woolf in pajamas and a bob cut.
Boilerplate NYC real-estate rage aside, it’s an idyllic portrait contrasted with the emptiness that bliss created in its wake. Hannah is shell-shocked in a manner only achievable through romantic abandonment: She nearly crumples when Elijah, apparently her (shitty) roommate once again, scoffs at her for being upset he ate her cereal. (In a bracket to determine the Worst A-Hole on Girls, Elijah and Jessa would definitely be seeded against one another.) Later she appears a little more put-together, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
This episode contains two of the funniest scenes ever to appear on this show, and the first is courtesy of Marnie and Wannabe Bon Iver, banging aggressively against the wall to … their own songs. They’re the exact type of faux-sincere narcissists who would do this (which is probably why their relationship has persisted this long), but this setup was so exceptional that I still had to pause the episode so I could clean the spit-take off my screen. Later, they argue about their band’s “sound,” concluding with Desi having a defensive, elitist rage-spasm at Marnie for comparing their band to She & Him (another pristine bit of joke-writing) and then arguing that she’s doing all the work while he just works on his motorcycle all the time. It’s his mode of transportation, Marnie, god!
Shoshanna is having a straight-up bangin’ time this week, too, courtesy of some grade-A spitfire banter with Jason Ritter. Ritter plays Scott, the founder of Madame Tinsley’s, an instant-soup company named after his ex-girlfriend. Their scene begins as a job interview, not unlike Shosh’s previous disasters — her brutal honesty coming out at the exact wrong moment. But this time, she loses it when he challenges her lack of work experience. With baggage to spare, she rips into his pathetic soup company (rightly so; the proposed graphics include clip-art cartoons and a daguerreotype of a Victorian black woman): “I am so happy for you and Jeremy and Simon, Scott. ‘Harvard alum makes good,’ that is such an exciting story! Do you mind if I write about it for Holy Shit magazine?!” To which Scott responds by cutting the interview short, declining to hire her, and immediately asking her out. She doesn’t even bat an eye as she accepts, full-throttle. (Five hundred bonus points, BTW, for the Shosh-invoked new term “budussy,” portmanteau for butt-dick-pussy, as in, “smells like.”)
Ray goes to the city council meeting with a homemade diorama of his street in hopes of getting a new traffic light installed. He’s fourth in line, and the council tries to conclude the meeting halfway through the docket. He stands his ground against a particularly huffy Marc Maron, who it would seem enjoys turning down every resident’s request for funding (even better lamps for the library, so elderly patrons can read more easily). Ray manages to not only stand up for the ignored community members, but also win favor with the rest of the council.
Meanwhile, Mimi-Rose brings lovers’ paradise crashing to the ground when she casually mentions that she can’t go running because she got an abortion yesterday, and yes, it was Adam’s — she has trust issues, you see, but is trying to be honest with him. I’m not sure whether to be happy to see a woman make a swift, definitive choice about her body without waiting for a man’s input, or sort of horrified by the nonchalant way she breaks what is obviously a huge deal to Adam with little to no regard for his feelings, almost as though the performance of it being not a big deal is more important than discussing a serious life-altering decision with the other person it involves, whom she supposedly cares about, regardless of his say in the matter. It’s the same lack of social awareness she had last week when she asked Adam if she should go in and talk to Hannah because she’s “great in a crisis.”
Hannah drops some jaw-droppingly articulate feelings in therapy this week, despite her terrible therapist — feelings that suddenly clarified something I feel many young women have had with this persistently frustrating show. Bad Shrink remarks how maturely Hannah seems to be dealing with the breakup (ha, ha). “I guess the upside to having everything go wrong in your life is that you cease to have any expectations of anything and everybody,” she shrugs. I balked at this, immediately embarrassed: I, a twentysomething white woman, have said this exact thing, and having it reflected back at me as an extremely privileged, melodramatic line (albeit one of Hannah’s less dramatic) was a humbling moment.
Other than its obvious issues with representation, one of my main sticking points with Girls is the fact that its characters always toe an awfully fine line between grotesque distortions played for comedy and faithful representations meant to tell the dramatic, ugly truth. From episode to episode, it’s easy to conflate the two, often to a fault. Marnie and motorcycle fetishist banging to their own music is a distinct parody; Shoshanna tanking all of her interviews with her tactlessness is a hilariously perfect character plotline. But then there are times, mostly with Hannah’s story, where it’s less clear. Am I supposed to be abashed that, like Hannah, “I have no idea what’s coming next”? Is this the irredeemable parody Hannah, the darkest, ugliest qualities of the suburban millennial white woman magnified to a painful degree for laughs? Or is it the real Hannah, worthy of sincere sympathy because she seems like she might really be trying to be better? Maybe a little bit of both — like your younger sister, Hannah’s serious confessions make you stifle a laugh while also seriously considering her honesty. The ambiguity might be intentional, but at the very least, this episode crystallizes the source of those conflicted feelings.
That revelation is topped off with a restaurant scene in which the four women (plus Elijah, who is rightfully insulted by Hannah for his horrible personality) reflect on their respective situations. Marnie confesses she’s starting to notice her gross, self-centered hippie is a gross, self-centered hippie; Shosh announces she’s going to marry Jason Ritter; and Hannah realizes that maybe what will actually fulfill her isn’t just “helping people,” as she and her therapist agree she was made to do (c’mon, her friends reason, she’s too selfish for that) — maybe it’s teaching. Jessa, still awful and in no way redeemed, makes the standard “those who can’t do” joke, with which Hannah fully agrees: “I can’t do — so I’ll teach!”
By the end, Mimi-Rose has somehow convinced Adam that staying with her is worth the fight, Ray is designing city council campaign posters with his smiling face on them (ugh, Ray, stop smiling, it’s freaking me out), and Hannah is walking into a (private, of course) high school with a résumé. This would have been a perfect series finale, frankly: Everyone is on a fitting upswing. Sadly, though, instead of imagining an optimistic, lesson-filled ending for all of these occasionally realistic characters, we have to experience whatever complicated chaos ensues from these choices next week. Let’s hope it’s just as funny.